Nick Saban will have his first in-depth press conference on Friday — there have been a couple of narrow-focus appearances when he has talked about players leaving early for the NFL Draft, or the Crimson Tide’s February signees. But he has said little about the 2019 Crimson Tide, which is set to begin spring practice, at least for a day, before spring break begins.
Without predicting what Saban will say, chances are good he will talk about 2019 as a “rebuilding” year for Alabama, or something of a reconstruction. That means something different at Alabama than it does at many other programs. There are plenty of talented, experienced players, especially on offense. The Heisman Trophy runner-up returns to play quarterback.
There are holes to fill on defense, and along the offensive line, but there are quality candidates for those spots — inexperienced candidates, in some cases, but potentially outstanding players nonetheless. So a “rebuilding” year doesn’t mean a year in which Alabama doesn’t have a chance to make a strong run at the College Football Playoff, and at winning the national championship.
There’s another sense in which rebuilding can take place, though. It doesn’t necessarily have to include tearing the foundation to the ground and making something new, with entirely new material. Instead, you can take an existing structure, check for the toll taken by team, bolster the foundation where needed. That seems be what Saban feels is in order for this year.
The changes in Saban’s staff — virtually a complete overhaul, an amazing occurrence in the wake of a 14-win season — seem to involve more than assistants leaving for better jobs, or bigger paychecks. In hiring the new assistants, Saban seems to have stressed experience and stability.
That seems to be the answer to a question that has been nagging at Saban for a couple of years, even though the national title at the end of the 2017 season — the Tagovailoa Miracle — covered it somewhat. It’s silly to say Alabama didn’t “close strong” in a year when it won the CFP Championship, but some days, the Crimson Tide seemed to have hit the wall that season, only to be granted a chance to refuel, oddly enough, by the good fortune of not having to play in the SEC Championship.
There was no masking the fact Alabama was not the same team down the stretch in 2018 that it had been earlier in the season. Again, we are in that singular Twilight Zone of Alabama Football, where winning the SEC Championship and a CFP semifinal doesn’t quite reach the level of “closing strong.” Clemson dominated the final game, and credit to them, but Saban’s attitude toward his job is to shake Dabo’s hand, say “good game” and then start looking for answers.
If Alabama wasn’t sharp, why wasn’t it sharp? If injuries contributed, then how can Alabama overcome them (which they did miraculously in 2017)? If the constant departure of juniors leaves Alabama, year in and year out, with a dearth of senior leadership, where can the leadership come from? Players who haven’t played significantly? Coaches?
Spring practice will be, as always, interesting to watch for the position battles, and, this season, for the answers at backup quarterback? But there is more to watch, a more quiet effort to rebuild an attitude, more than just a roster.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.